§ 10.6 SOURCES OF SYNONYMY - Арнольд И. В. А 84 Лексикология современного английского языка: Учеб для ин-тов и фак...


The distinction between synchronic and diachronic treatment is so fundamental that it cannot be overemphasised, but the two aspects

1 Ideolect — language as spoken by one individual.


are interdependent. It is therefore essential after the descriptive analysis of synonymy in present-day English to take up the historical line of approach and discuss the origin of synonyms and the causes of their abundance in English.

The majority of those who studied synonymy in the past have been cultivating both lines of approach without keeping them scrupulously apart, and focused their attention on the prominent part of foreign loan words in English synonymy, e. g. freedom : : liberty or heaven : : sky, where the first elements are native and the second, French and Scandinavian respectively. O. Jespersen and many others used to stress that the English language is peculiarly rich in synonyms, because Britons, Romans, Saxons, Danes and Normans fighting and settling upon the soil of the British Isles could not but influence each other’s speech. British scholars studied Greek and Latin and for centuries used Latin as a medium for communication on scholarly topics.

Synonymy has its characteristic patterns in each language. Its peculiar feature in English is the contrast between simple native words stylistically neutral, literary words borrowed from French and learned words of Greco-Latin origin. This results in a sort of stylistically conditioned triple “keyboard” that can be illustrated by the following:

^ Native English


Words borrowed

from French

Words borrowed

from Latin

to ask

to question

to interrogate




to gather

to assemble

to collect




to end

to finish

to complete

to rise

to mount

to ascend




English also uses many pairs of synonymous derivatives, the one Hellenic and the other Romance, e. g. periphery : : circumference; hypothesis : : supposition; sympathy : : compassion; synthesis : : composition.

The pattern of stylistic relationship represented in the above table, although typical, is by no means universal. For example, the native words dale, deed, fair are the poetic equivalents of their much more frequent borrowed synonyms valley, act or the hybrid beautiful.

This subject of stylistic differentiation has been one of much controversy in recent years. It is universally accepted, however, that semantic and stylistic properties may change and synonyms which at one time formed a stylistic opposition only may in the course of time become ideographically cognitively contrasted as well, and vice versa.

It would be linguistically naive to maintain that borrowing results only in quantitative changes or that qualitative changes are purely stylistical. The introduction of a borrowed word almost invariably starts some alteration both in the newcomer and in the semantic structure of existing words that are close to it in meaning. When in the 13th century the word soil (OFr soil,


soyil) was borrowed into English its meaning was ‘a strip of land’. The upper layer of earth in which plants grow had been denoted since Old English by one of the synonyms: eorþe, land, folde. The development of the group has been studied by A.A. Ufimtseva. All these words had other central meanings so that the meaning in question was with them secondary. Now, if two words coincide in meaning and use, the tendency is for one of them to drop out of the language. Folde had the same function and meaning as eorþe and in the fight for survival the latter won. The polysemantic word land underwent an intense semantic development in a different direction but dropped out of this synonymic series. In this way it became quite natural for soil to fill the obvious lexical gap, receive its present meaning and become the main name for the corresponding notion, i.e. ‘the mould in which plants grow’. The noun earth retained this meaning throughout its history, whereas the word ground in which this meaning was formerly absent developed it. As a result this synonymic group comprises at present soil, earth and ground.

The fate of the word folde is not at all infrequent. Many other words now marked in the dictionaries as “archaic” or “obsolete” have dropped out in the same competition of synonyms; others survived with a meaning more or less removed from the original one. The process is called synonymic differentiation and is so current that M. Bréal regarded it as an inherent law of language development. It must be noted that synonyms may influence each other semantically in two diametrically opposite ways: one of them is dissimilation, the other the reverse process, i.e. assimi1atiоn. The assimilation of synonyms consists in parallel development. This law was discovered and described by G. Stern. H.A. Trebe and G.H. Vallins give as examples the pejorative meanings acquired by the nouns wench, knave and churl which originally meant ‘girl’, ‘boy’ and ‘labourer’ respectively, and point out that this loss of old dignity became linguistically possible, because there were so many synonymous terms at hand.

The important thing to remember is that it is not only borrowings from foreign languages but other sources as well that have made increasing contributions to the stock of English synonyms. There are, for instance, words that come from dialects, and, in the last hundred years, from American English in particular. As a result speakers of British English may make use of both elements of the following pairs, the first element in each pair coming from the USA: gimmick : : trick; dues : : subscription; long distance (telephone) call : : trunk call; radio : : wireless. There are also synonyms that originate in numerous dialects as, for instance, clover : : shamrock; liquor : : whiskey (from Irish); girl : : lass, lassie or charm : : glamour (from Scottish).

The role of borrowings should not be overestimated. Synonyms are also created by means of all word-forming processes productive in the language at a given time of its history. The words already existing in the language develop new meanings. New words may be formed by affixation or loss of affixes, by conversion, compounding, shortening and so on, and being coined, form synonyms to those already in use.


Of special importance for those who are interested in the present-day trends and characteristic peculiarities of the English vocabulary are the synonymic oppositions due to shift of meaning, new combinations of verbs with postpositives and compound nouns formed from them, shortenings, set expressions and conversion.

Phrasal verbs consisting of a verb with a postpositive are widely used in present-day English and may be called one of its characteristic features. (See p. 120 ff.) Many verbal synonymic groups contain such combinations as one of their elements. A few examples will illustrate this statement: choose : : pick out; abandon : : give up; continue : : go on; enter : : come in; lift : : pick up; postpone : : put off; quarrel : : fall out; return : : bring back. E.g.: By the way, Toby has quite given up the idea of doing those animal cartoons (Plomer).

The vitality of these expressions is proved by the fact that they really supply material for further word-formation. Very many compound nouns denoting abstract notions, persons and events are correlated with them, also giving ways of expressing notions hitherto named by somewhat lengthy borrowed terms. There are, for instance, such synonymic pairs as arrangement : : layout; conscription : : call-up; precipitation : : fall-out; regeneration : : feedback; reproduction : : playback; resistance : : fight-back; treachery : : sell-out.

An even more frequent type of new formations is that in which a noun with a verbal stem is combined with a verb of generic meaning (have, give, take, get, make) into a set expression which differs from the simple verb in aspect or emphasis: laugh : : give a laugh; sigh : : give a sigh; walk : : take a walk; smoke : : have a smoke; love : : fall in love (see p. 164). E. g.: Now we can all have a good read with our coffee (Simpson).

N.N. Amosova stresses the patterned character of the phrases in question, the regularity of connection between the structure of the phrase and the resulting semantic effect. She also points out that there may be cases when phrases of this pattern have undergone a shift of meaning and turned into phraseological units quite different in meaning from and not synonymical with the verbs of the same root. This is the case with give a lift, give somebody quite a turn, etc.

Quite frequently synonyms, mostly stylistic, but sometimes ideographic as well, are due to shortening, e. g. memorandum : : memo; vegetables : : vegs; margarine : : marge; microphone : : mike; popular (song) : : pop (song).

One should not overlook the fact that conversion may also be a source of synonymy; it accounts for such pairs as commandment : : command] laughter : : laugh. The problem in this connection is whether such cases should be regarded as synonyms or as lexical variants of one and the same word. It seems more logical to consider them as lexical variants. Compare also cases of different affixation: anxiety : : anxious- ness; effectivity : : effectiveness, and loss of affixes: amongst : : among or await : : wait.



A source of synonymy also well worthy of note is the so-called euphemism in which by a shift of meaning a word of more or less ‘pleasant or at least inoffensive connotation becomes synonymous to one that is harsh, obscene, indelicate or otherwise unpleasant.1 The euphemistic expression merry fully coincides in denotation with the word drunk it substitutes, but the connotations of the latter fade out and so the utterance on the whole is milder, less offensive. The effect is achieved, because the periphrastic expression is not so harsh, sometimes jocular and usually motivated according to some secondary feature of the notion: naked : : in one’s birthday suit] pregnant : : in the family way. Very often a learned word which sounds less familiar is therefore less offensive, as in drunkenness : : intoxication; sweat : : perspiration.

Euphemisms can also be treated within the synchronic approach, because both expressions, the euphemistic and the direct one, co-exist in the language and form a synonymic opposition. Not only English but other modern languages as well have a definite set of notions attracting euphemistic circumlocutions. These are notions of death, madness, stupidity, drunkenness, certain physiological processes, crimes and so on. For example: die : : be no more : : be gone : : lose one’s life : : breathe one’s last : : join the silent majority : : go the way of alt flesh : : pass away : : be gathered to one’s fathers.

A prominent source of synonymic attraction is still furnished by interjections and swearing addressed to God. To make use of God’s name is considered sinful by the Church and yet the word, being expressive, formed the basis of many interjections. Later the word God was substituted by the phonetically similar word goodness: For goodness sake\ Goodness gracious] Goodness knows! Cf. By Jovel Good Lord! By Gum! As in:

His father made a fearful row.

He said: “By Gum, you’ve done it now.” (Belloc)

A certain similarity can be observed in the many names for the devil (deuce, Old Nick). The point may be illustrated by an example from Burns’s “Address to the Devil":

О thou! Whatever title suit thee,

Auld Hornie, Satan, Nick, or Clootie ...

Euphemisms always tend to be a source of new synonymic formations, because after a short period of use the new term becomes so closely connected with the notion that it turns into a word as obnoxious as the earlier synonym.


There are many cases of similarity between words easily confused with synonymy but in fact essentially different from it.

1 For a diachronic analysis of this phenomenon see p.p. 73 ff.


Lexical variants, for instance, are examples of free variation in language, in so far as they are not conditioned by contextual environment but are optional with the individual speaker. E. g. northward / norward; whoever / whosoever. The variation can concern morphological or phonological features or it may be limited to spelling. Compare weazen/weazened ‘shrivelled and dried in appearance’, an adjective used about a person’s face and looks; directly which may be pronounced [di'rektli] or [dai'rektli] and whisky with its spelling variant whiskey. Lexical variants are different from synonyms, because they are characterised by similarity in phonetical or spelling form and identity of both meaning and distribution.

The cases of identity of stems, a similarity of form, and meaning combined with a difference in distribution should be classed as synonyms and not as lexical variants. They are discussed in many books dedicated to correct English usage. These are words belonging to the same part of speech, containing identical stems and synonymical affixes, and yet not permitting free variation, not optional. They seem to provoke mistakes even with native speakers. A few examples will suffice to illustrate the point. The adjectives luxurious and luxuriant are synonymous when meaning ‘characterised by luxury’. Otherwise, luxuriant is restricted to the expression of abundance (used about hair, leaves, flowers). Luxurious is the adjective expressing human luxury and indulgence (used about tastes, habits, food, mansions). Economic and economical are interchangeable under certain conditions, more often, however, economic is a technical term associated with economics (an economic agreement). The second word, i.e. economical, is an everyday word associated with economy; e. g. economical stove, economical method, be economical of one’s money.

Synonyms of this type should not be confused with paronyms, i.e. words that are kindred in origin, sound form and meaning and therefore liable to be mixed but in fact different in meaning and usage and therefore only mistakenly interchanged.

The term paronym comes from the Greek para ‘beside’ and onoma ‘name’, it enters the lexicological terminology very conveniently alongside such terms as synonyms, antonyms, homonyms and allonyms.1

Different authors suggest various definitions. Some define paronyms as words of the same root, others as words having the same sound form, thus equalising them with word-families or homonyms. Any definition, however, is valuable only insofar as it serves to reflect the particular conception or theory of the subject one studies and proves useful for the practical aims of its study. As the present book is intended for the future teachers of English, it is vital to pay attention to grouping of words according to the difficulties they might present to the student. That is why we take the definition given above stressing not only the phonetic and semantic similarity but also the possible mistakes in the use

1 Allоnуm is a term offered by N.A. Shechtman denoting contextual pairs semantically coordinated like slow and careful, quick and impatient.


of these “hard words”. This is the case with the adjectives ingenious and ingenuous. The first of these means ‘clever’ and may be used both of man and of his inventions and doings, e. g. an ingenious craftsman, an ingenious device. Ingenuous means ‘frank’, ‘artless’, as an ingenuous smile.

The likeness may be accidental as in the verbs affect and effect. The first means ‘influence’, the second — ‘to produce’. These come from different Latin verbs. The similarity may be also due to a common source. It is etymologically justified in alternate ‘succeeding each other’ and alternative ‘providing a choice’, or consequent ‘resulting’ and consequential ‘important’, or continuance ‘an uninterrupted succession’ and continuation which has two distinct meanings ‘beginning again’ and ‘sequel’ as the continuation of a novel.


Antonyms may be defined as two or more words of the same language belonging to the same part of speech and to the same semantic field, identical in style and nearly identical in distribution, associated and often used together so that their denotative meanings render contradictory or contrary notions.

Contradictory notions are mutually opposed and denying one another, e. g. alive means ‘not dead’ and impatient means ‘not patient’. Contrary notions are also mutually opposed but they are gradable, e. g. old and young are the most distant elements of a series like: old : : middle-aged : : young, while hot and cold form a series with the intermediate cool and warm, which, as F.R. Palmer points out, form a pair of antonyms themselves. The distinction between the two types is not absolute, as one can say that one is more dead than alive, and thus make these adjectives gradable.

Another classification of antonyms is based on a morphological approach: root words form absolute antonyms (right : : wrong), the presence of negative affixes creates derivational antonyms (happy : : unhappy).

The juxtaposition of antonyms in a literary text emphasises some contrast and creates emotional tension as in the following lines from “Romeo and Juliet” (Act I, Scene V):

^ My only love sprang from my only hate\ Too early seen unknown, and known too late!

One of the features enhancing the pathetic expressiveness of these lines is contrast based on such pairs as love : : hate; early : : late; unknown : : known. The opposition is obvious: each component of these pairs means the opposite of the other. The pairs may be termed antonymic pairs.

Antonyms have traditionally been defined as words of opposite meaning. This definition, however, is not sufficiently accurate, as it only shifts the problem to the question of what words may be regarded as words of opposite meaning, so we shall keep to the definition given at the beginning of the present paragraph.

14 И. В. Арнольд 209

The important question of criteria received a new and rigorously linguistic treatment in V.N. Komissarov’s work. Keeping to the time-honoured classification of antonyms into absolute or root antonyms (love : : hate) and derivational antonyms, V.N. Komissarov breaks new ground by his contextual treatment of the problem. Two words, according to him, shall be considered antonymous if they are regularly contrasted in actual speech, that is if the contrast in their meanings is proved by definite types of contextual co-occurrence.

Absolute antonyms, then, are words regularly contrasted as homogenous sentence members connected by copulative, disjunctive or adversative conjunctions, or identically used in parallel constructions, in certain typical contexts.

In the examples given below we shall denote the first of the antonyms — A, the second — B, and the words they serve to qualify — X and Y, respectively.

1. If you’ve obeyed all the rules good and bad, and you still come out at the dirty end ... then I say the rules are no good (M. Wilson).

The formula is:

A and (or) В = all

not A but (on the contrary) В
2. He was alive, not dead (Shaw). The formula is:

3. You will see if you were right or wrong (Cronin).

The formula is:

A or В

4. The whole was big, oneself was little (Galsworthy). The formula is: X is A, and Y, on the contrary, В

A regular and frequent co-occurrence in such contexts is the most important characteristic feature of antonyms. Another important criterion suggested by V.N. Komissarov is the possibility of substitution and identical lexical valency. This possibility of identical contexts is very clearly seen in the following lines:

^ There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, That it hardly becomes any of us To talk about the rest of us (Hock).

Members of the same antonymic pair reveal nearly identical spheres of collocation. For example the adjective hot in its figurative meaning of ‘angry’ and ‘excited’ is chiefly combined with names of


unpleasant emotions: anger, resentment, scorn, etc. Its antonym cold occurs with the same words.

The diagnostic force of valency is weaker than that of regular cooccurrence.

Unlike synonyms, antonyms do not differ either in style, emotional colouring or distribution. They are interchangeable at least in some contexts. The result of this interchange may be of different kind depending on the conditions of context. There will be, for instance, no change of meaning if ill and well change places within the sentence in the following: But whether he treated it ill or well, it loved nothing so much as to be near him (Wells). Or a whole sentence receives an opposite meaning when a word is replaced by its antonym, although it differs from its prototype in this one word only: You may feel he is clever : : You may feel he is foolish.

As antonyms do not differ stylistically, an antonymic substitution never results in a change of stylistic colouring.

The possibility of substitution and identical valency show that semantic polarity is a very special kind of difference implying a great deal of sameness.

In dealing with antonymic oppositions it may be helpful to treat antonyms in terms of “marked” and “unmarked” members. The unmarked member can be more widely used and very often can include the referents of the marked member but not vice versa. This proves that their meanings have some components in common. In the antonymic pair old : : young the unmarked member is old. It is possible to ask: How old is the girl? without implying that she is no longer young. W.C. Chafe says that we normally talk about a continuum of wideness as width and not about a continuum of narrowness. Thus, the usual question is: How wide is if? and not How narrow is it? which proves the unmarked vs marked character of wide vs narrow. In the antonymic opposition love : : hate, there is no unmarked element.

Some authors, J.Lyons among them, suggest a different terminology. They distinguish antonyms proper and complementary antonyms. The chief characteristic feature of antonyms proper is that they are regularly gradable. Antonyms proper, therefore, represent contrary notions. Grading is based on the operation of comparison. One can compare the intensity of feeling as in love — attachment — liking — indifference — antipathy — hate. Whenever a sentence contains an antonym or an antonymic pair, it implicitly or explicitly contains comparison.

The important point to notice is this — the denial of the one member of antonymic opposition does not always imply the assertion of the other — take, for instance W.H. Auden’s line: ^ All human hearts have ugly little treasures. If we say that our hearts’ treasures are neither ugly nor little, it does not imply that they are beautiful or great.

It is interesting to note that such words as young : : old; big : : small; good : : bad do not refer to independent absolute qualities but to some-implicit norm, they are relative. Consider the following portrait of an elephant:

14* 211

The Elephant

^ When people call this beast to mind, They marvel more and more

At such a little tail behind

So large a trunk before.

The tail of an elephant is little only in comparison with his trunk and the rest of his body. For a mouse it would have been quite big. J. Lyons discusses an interesting example of antonyms also dealing with elephants: ^ A small elephant is a large animal. The implicit size-norm for elephants is not the same as that for all animals in general: the elephant which is small in comparison with other elephants may be big in comparison with animals as a class.

This example may also serve to show the difference and parallelism between antonymy proper and complementarity (expressing contradictory notions).

The semantic polarity in antonymy proper is relative, the opposition is gradual, it may embrace several elements characterised by different degrees of the same property. The comparison they imply is clear from the context. ^ Large and little denote polar degrees of the same notion. The same referent which may be small as an elephant is a comparatively big animal, but it cannot be male as an elephant and female as an animal: a male elephant is a male animal.

Having noted the difference between complementary antonyms and antonyms proper, we must also take into consideration that they have much in common so that in a wider sense both groups are taken as antonyms. Complementaries like other antonyms are regularly contrasted in speech (male and female), and the elements of a complementary pair have similar distribution. The assertion of a sentence containing an antonymous or complementary term implies the denial of a corresponding sentence containing the other antonym or complementary:

The poem is good → The poem is not bad (good : : bad — antonyms proper)

This is prose → This is not poetry (prose : : poetry — complementaries)

As to the difference in negation it is optional with antonyms proper: by saying that the poem is not good the speaker does not always mean that it is positively bad. Though more often we are inclined to take into consideration only the opposite ends of the scale and by saying that something is not bad we even, using a litotes, say it is good.

So complementaries are a subset of antonyms taken in a wider sense.

If the root of the word involved in contrast is not semantically relative, its antonym is derived by negation. Absolute or root antonyms (see p. 209) are on this morphological basis, contrasted to those containing some negative affix.


Thus, the second group of antonyms is known as derivational antonyms. The affixes in them serve to deny the quality stated in the stem. The opposition known : : unknown in the opening example from Shakespeare (see p. 209) is by no means isolated: far from it. It is not difficult to find other examples where contrast is implied in the morphological structure of the word itself. E. g. appear : : disappear; happiness : : unhappiness; logical : : illogical; pleasant : : unpleasant; prewar : : postwar; useful : : useless, etc. There are typical affixes and typical patterns that go into play in forming these derivational antonyms. It is significant that in the examples given above prefixes prevail. The regular type of derivational antonyms contains negative prefixes: dis-, il-/im-/in-/ir-, поп- and un-. Other negative prefixes occur in this function only occasionally.

As to the suffixes, it should be noted that modern English gives no examples of words forming their antonyms by adding a negative suffix, such as, for instance, -less. The opposition hopeless : : hopeful or useless : : useful is more complicated, as the suffix -less is not merely added to the contrasting stem, but substituted for the suffix -ful. The group is not numerous. In most cases, even when the language possesses words with the suffix -less, the antonymic pairs found in actual speech are formed with the prefix un-. Thus, the antonymic opposition is not selfish : : self/ess but selfish : : unselfish. Cf. selfishness : : unselfishness; selfishly : : unselfishly. E.g.: I had many reasons, both selfish and unselfish, for not giving the unnecessary openings (Snow).

Several features distinguish the two groups of antonyms. In words containing one of the above negative prefixes the contrast is expressed morphologically as the prefixed variant is in opposition to the unprefixed one. Therefore if the morphological motivation is clear, there is no necessity in contexts containing both members to prove the existence of derivational antonyms. The word unsuccessful, for instance, presupposes the existence of the word successful, so that the following quotation is sufficient for establishing the contrast: Essex was always in a state of temper after one of these unsuccessful interviews (Aldridge).

The patterns, however, although typical, are not universal, so that morphologically similar formations may show different semantic relationships. Disappoint, for example, is not the antonym of appoint, neither is unman ‘to deprive of human qualities’ the antonym of man ‘to furnish with personnel’.

The difference between absolute and derivational antonyms is not only morphological but semantic as well. To reveal its essence it is necessary to turn to logic. A pair of derivational antonyms form a privative binary opposition, whereas absolute antonyms, as we have already seen, are polar members of a gradual opposition which may have intermediary elements, the actual number of which may vary from zero to several units, e. g. beautiful : : pretty : : good-looking : : plain : : ugly.

Many antonyms are explained by means of the negative particle: clean — not dirty, shallow — not deep. It is interesting to note that whereas in Russian the negative particle and the negative prefix are homonymous, in the English language the negative particle not is morphologically unrelated to the prefixes dis-, il-/im-/in-/ir- and un-. Syntactic negation by means of


this particle is weaker than the lexical antonymy. Compare: not happy : : unhappy; not polite : : impolite; not regular : : irregular; not to believe : : to disbelieve. To prove this difference in intensity V.N. Komissarov gives examples where a word with a negative prefix is added to compensate for the insufficiency of a syntactic negation, even intensified by at all: I am sorry to inform you that we are not at all satisfied with your sister. We are very much dissatisfied with her (Ch. Dickens).

Almost every word can have one or more synonyms. Comparatively few have antonyms. This type of opposition is especially characteristic of qualitative adjectives. Cf. in W.Shakespeare’s “Sonnet LXXVI":

^ For as the sun is daily new and old, So is my love still telling what is told.

It is also manifest in words derived from qualitative adjectives, e. g. gladly : : sadly; gladness : : sadness. Irrespective of the part of speech, they are mostly words connected with feelings or state: triumph : : disaster; hope : : despair. Antonymic pairs, also irrespective of part of speech, concern direction (hither and thither) (L.A. Novikov calls these “vectorial antonyms"), and position in space and time (far and near).

Nothing so difficult as a beginning,

In poetry, unless perhaps the end (Byron).

Compare also day : : night; late : : early; over : : under.

The number of examples could be augmented, but those already quoted will suffice to illustrate both the linguistic essence of antonyms and the very prominent part they play among the expressive means a language can possess. Like synonyms they occupy an important place in the phraseological fund of the language: backwards and forwards, far and near, from first to last, in black and white, play fast and loose, etc.

Not only words, but set expressions as well, can be grouped into antonymic pairs. The phrase by accident can be contrasted to the phrase on purpose. Cf. up to par and below par. Par represents the full nominal value of a company’s shares, hence up to par metaphorically means ‘up to the level of one’s normal health’ and below par ‘unwell’.

Antonyms form mostly pairs, not groups like synonyms: above : : below; absent : : present; absence : : presence; alike : : different; asleep : : awake; back : : forth; bad : : good; big : : little, etc. Cases when there are three or more words are reducible to a binary opposition, so that hot is contrasted to cold and warm to cool.

Polysemantic words may have antonyms in some of their meanings and none in the others. When criticism means ‘blame’ or ‘censure’ its antonym is praise, when it means ‘writing critical essays dealing with the works of some author’, it can have no antonym. The fact lies at the basis of W.S. Maugham’s pun: People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise. Also in different meanings a word may have different aa-tonyms. Compare for example: a short story : : a long story but a short man : : a tall man; be short with somebody : : be civil with somebody.


Semantic polarity presupposes the presence of some common semantic components in the denotational meaning. Thus, while ashamed means ‘feeling unhappy or troubled because one has done something wrong or foolish’, its antonym proud also deals with feeling but the feeling of happiness and assurance which also has its ground in moral values.

A synonymic set of words is an opposition of a different kind: its basis is sameness or approximate sameness of denotative meaning, the distinctive features can be stylistic, emotional, distributional or depending on valency.

There is one further type of semantic opposition we have to consider. The relation to which the name of conversives is usually given may be exemplified by such pairs as buy : : sell; give : : receive; ancestor : : descendant; parent : : child; left : : right; cause : : suffer; saddening : : saddened.

Conversives (or relational opposites) as F.R. Palmer calls them denote one and the same referent or situation as viewed from different points of view, with a reversal of the order of participants and their roles. The interchangeability and contextual behaviour are specific. The relation is closely connected with grammar, namely with grammatical contrast of active and passive. The substitution of a conversive does not change the meaning of a sentence if it is combined with appropriate regular morphological and syntactical changes and selection of appropriate prepositions: He gave her flowers. She received flowers from him. = She was given flowers by him.

Some linguists class conversives as a subset of antonyms, others suggest that antonyms and conversives together constitute the class of contrastives. Although there is parallelism between the two relations, it seems more logical to stress that they must be distinguished, even if the difference is not always clear-cut. The same pair of words, e. g. fathers and sons, may be functioning as antonyms or as conversives.

An important point setting them apart is that conversive relations are possible within the semantic structure of one and the same word. M.V. Nikitin mentions such verbs as wear, sell, tire, smell, etc. and such adjectives as glad, sad, dubious, lucky and others.

It should be noted that sell in this case is not only the conversive of buy, it means ‘be sold’, ‘find buyers’ (The book sells well). The same contrast of active and passive sense is observed in adjectives: sad ‘saddening’ and ‘saddened’, dubious and doubtful mean ‘feeling doubt and inspiring doubt’.

This peculiarity of conversives becomes prominent if we compare equivalents in various languages. The English verb marry renders both conversive meanings, it holds good for both participants: Mary married Dick or Dick married Mary. In a number of languages, including Russian, there are, as J. Lyons and some other authors have pointed out, two verbs: one for the woman and another for the man.

The methodological significance of the antonymic, synonymic, conversive, hyponymic and other semantic relations between lexical items becomes clear if we remember that the place that each unit occupies in the lexical system and its function is derived from the relations it contracts with other units (see table on p. 183).


Chapter 11

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